No matter who wins this November’s presidential election, one of the first items facing a new Secretary of Agriculture will be developing a 2018 Farm Bill, a process sure to begin early in 2017. As we start that effort, its worth noting that for all its rich diversity, American agriculture seems to be united behind a few large overarching issues: coordinated and scientific regulatory policy by EPA, FDA and USDA; healthy trade promotion; biotechnology; and, farm labor issues, including immigration. But at the individual farmer level, no issue is more important than defending and improving Federal crop insurance. All farm groups agree that crop insurance is critical to the future of agriculture, leveling out the booms and busts.
President Barack Obama on Friday signed into law a bill that requires a mandatory labeling system of genetically modified organisms (GMO) for all 50 states. The law pre-empts Vermont bill and requires the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to determine which food products and ingredients should be labeled as GMO. Those products will be labeled by text, symbols or a bar code that can be scanned with smartphones. The USDA will have two years to develop the rules and regulations for the nationwide labeling program.
EPA's Environmental Appeals Board ha s upheld the cancellation of flubendiamide, a Bayer CropScience insecticide sold under the trade name Belt, but will allow existing stocks to be sold by retailers.
Antoine Meriot, a French economist released a study that pinpoints the estimated $1.7 billion in annual benefits flowing to India's sugar producers. At the heart of India's subsidy system are government-mandated prices for sugarcane. These prices, which are paid to farmers by the sugar mills that process the cane, are much higher than elsewhere. For example, India's farmers received $42 per metric ton of cane in 2014, compared to the $31 seen by U.S. farmers. This equated to a $1.598 billion subsidy in 2014 and $1.125 billion in 2015, compared with the market-oriented approach favored by Indian sugar policy reformers. To help offset inflated prices, the government gives sugar mills soft loans, which "have provided interest forgiveness for a total amount of about $440 million over the last nine years," he wrote. Additional supports identified by Meriot include: $62 million in export subsidies in the past two years; $134 million from 2007 to 2015 to build and maintain buffer stocks; $173 million budgeted this year to help reduce surpluses; import duties at 40 percent; and $831 million in interest-free loans since 2008 to modernize mills, fund research, and support energy production from sugar. India's massive handouts, Meriot explained, have kept inefficient producers in business, encouraged overproduction, and helped distort global prices. "The Indian sugar policy generates a vicious cycle of expenditures but the [government] will not hesitate to intervene and support its industry if necessary, even if it involves costly subsidies and controversial export support," he concluded. That sentiment was echoed loudly by India's government officials in the May Wall Street Journal article, which noted: "'The question of cutting back on the handouts does not arise,' said an official at the Ministry of Agriculture. ‘We will not deviate from our duty of farm welfare.'" Such is the world in which America's efficient farmers and ranchers must compete.
Animal agriculture groups are voicing many concerns over USDA’s proposed rule to expand the National Organic Program to include animal-handling practices. Not only is the rule outside the statutory scope of the NOP, they say, but it is not based on science, has doubtful benefit and comes with a high cost to producers. One key concern to poultry and pork producers is the risk to animal and public health. The proposed standards focus on increased outdoor access, which the National Chicken Council and Pork Producers Council contend conflict with best management practices and will increase the likelihood and magnitude of disease outbreaks.
Russia has banned the cultivation and breeding of genetically engineered crops, which may have long-term consequences for biotechnology in global agriculture.
The presence of Chinese farmers on Russian land in the Far East has stirred frenzied fear of a stealthy Chinese takeover. Local officials grumbling that they cannot keep up with Chinese work habits, tend to see China and its vast pool of industrious labor as the best hope of developing improverished regions that often feel neglected by Moscow.
a Congressional letter was sent to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack requesting him to consider financial assistance to the dairy industry. The letter was both bicameral and bipartisan as Senators and House Members from a number of key dairy states joined forces in making this request. The USDA is already “crunching the numbers” in determining what might be the best way to proceed. The Secretary has authority under the Commodity Credit Corporation to move forward on a financial assistance package. The Department will be making a decision on this request in the weeks ahead.
SDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service is contacting 25,000 farmers and ranchers now through August to take part in a national survey that will more accurately measure the environmental benefits associated with implementation and installation of conservation practices on agricultural land. The results of the National Resources Inventory Conservation Effects Assessment Project (NRI-CEAP) survey will help develop the science-based solutions for managing the agricultural landscape to improve environmental quality.
The pace of agricultural lending in the second quarter remained strong. Respondents to the Survey of Terms and Bank Lending to Farmers indicated the total number of non-real estate loans made to farmers in the second quarter increased 6 percent from a year ago (Chart 1). Moreover, the number of non-real estate loans larger than $100,000 made to farmers climbed 11 percent, continuing the trend of recent years. Reduced cash flow also has led to extended maturities for many loan categories to help reduce annual debt payments. Loans used to finance machinery and equipment were extended to an average of 46 months in the second quarter from an average of 28 from 2005 to 2014 (Chart 4). Maturities on loans used to finance livestock operations, excluding the purchase of feeder livestock, increased to a record 20 months. In fact, since 2005, maturities on each of the loan types tracked in the survey has increased, but most significantly in the machinery category.